Image via screenshot/FX

Contrary, it seems, to the rumors that AHS would turn in the direction of The Hills Have Eyes and all the homicidal incestuous gore that connotes, Wednesday night’s premiere focused on a different, truly American horror story: the mysteries of Roanoke, the North Carolina colony that, in year 1587, effectively disappeared without a trace.

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Season 6 takes clues from the kinds of reality-dramatization shows that populate channels like SyFy and Investigation Discovery, a strange effect at first: as it tells the story of Shelby (Lily Rabe) and Matt (Andre Holland) via confessional-booth style narration, it simultaneously tells the story of Shelby (Sarah Paulson) and Matt (Cuba Gooding Jr.) via reenactments. Even the dramatic title card—My Roanoke Nightmare—sounds and looks like a salacious SyFy series investigating real-life ghost stories and the human fear that accompanies them. It’s an interesting notion, and a flip for a show that has seemed to get itself into a rut; potentially, threading the story through narrators and this particular format could help right the meandering, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink story problems it’s dealt with in the last couple seasons.

In last night’s premiere, Shelby and Matt are a so-in-love Los Angeles couple who decide to go back to Matt’s home state of North Carolina after Matt gets randomly punched in the face on the street in a gang initiation ritual. Wandering through the virgin forest, they happen upon a for-sale farm house, built in 1792, and the couple wins the home in a steal of an auction in which the only other bidders are a trio of dirty country men with a flatbed truck and fucked-up teeth—“ZZ Top wannabes,” as Matt later describes them—something like the 1970s stereotype of a “hick,” so we may well get The Hills Have Eyes yet.

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But are the ZZ Top dudes a decoy, meant solely to illuminate how bougie Matt and Shelby—with her yoga practice and rosé in the tub—might be in contrast? Perhaps, and that aspect is certainly a knowing spoof on LA yoga types; when Matt’s sister Lee (Adina Porter/Angela Bassett) comes in the picture, she scoffs that “yoga’s not a job,” and Rabe’s Shelby responds: “Lee mocked my yoga, my gluten allergy, and my two years of college. She thought I was too much of a phony to be with her brother.” As it happens, Lee’s former addiction to painkillers caused her to lose her job as a cop, her marriage and full custody of her child, as the show gets deeper into timely slice-of-life archetypes.

As ever, though, the premiere’s main focus is fear; after presumable foes Lee and Shelby are holed up in the farmhouse together for a night, a mysterious force turns on a nutty home movie in the basement of a scraggly man racing through the woods to confront what looks to be a... pig monster?... only to return to the great room being rigged up with Blair Witch style, voodoo-y stick traps. (Timely!)

Image via FX/screenshot

And where do we see these scary stick men again? In the woods, of course!

Image via FX/screenshot

It’s the premiere, so it’s unclear where this is going, though we can float a guess: Kathy Bates is a devil worshipper from colonial times, some unnamed earth-evil wants to reject and/or sacrifice newcomers, pigs as a species are vessels of evil conjured by human foibles, etc. But it’s promising so far, and the familiar narrative format is a nice angle, so as ever, we’ll keep watching.